Kristy Bowen’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Diagram, Milk Magazine, Swink, Rhino, and Another Chicago Magazine. She is the author of a number of handmade chapbooks, which are available at her website, as well as a full length book, the fever almanac, due out from Ghost Road Press this fall. She edits the electronic zine, wicked alice and runs dancing girl press, which publishes work by women poets. Be sure to check out her blog, too.
Editor's Note: Kristy Bowen and fellow Seven Corners alum Kristy Odelius will be reading at Myopic Books book on Sunday, March 19. Don't miss it.
Sometimes, it was all red. The dash light, my dress, the fire alarm of my mouth. Even my hair makes a sound like that now. Before you know it, I’m the patron saint of disaster. Of car crashes and open hydrants. The vowels gone round and sloppy in my mouth as candy. For luck, I carry three tiny vermillion birds in the bottom of my purse. A cross in the crux of my crimson bra. In the furnace of my lungs, sometimes there’s a hissing, a swirl, like a sink emptying. I am careful not to riot.
girls against boys
When she makes an o of her mouth,
the forsythia behind her head bursts into flame.
Singes clotheslines full of blue gingham
pinafores and yellow flowered sheets.
When she bends at the waist, she can make an o
of her body. A birdcall. A tiny pink sequin.
Can make up names for the baby teeth
beneath her dresser. Lydia. Amelia.
Their tiny lion tin. Can define the pinwheel
of her arms falling through dark.
The trellis by the steps slicks in the rain
and all night he calls for his extra rib,
his good heart’s hinge. Sad, sad.
No one can sleep with it. The world
is all checked cotton and charm bracelets now.
I can move my mouth in a whisper.
Could give you the instructions,
if we found the proper word.
from the hysteria notebooks: a gothicI. Catherine, for a moment, was motionless with horror.
Our story indicates the parlor door
remain closed, the lace at her wrist
worn, and slightly rent. Granted,
there are bones in the body science
hasn’t even discovered yet: this,
the one at her throat that tightens
when the white dress takes flight
from the window, or the slivers
in the ear discerning motion.
A woman in the corner is counting spools
of thread while a man in a black coat watches.
The light falls to ruin.
He had then proceeded to throw suspicion upon the girl, saying that he had heard from Frau K. that she took no interest in any other thing but sexual matters, and that she used to read Mantegazza’s Physiology of Love and books of that sort in their house on the lake. It was most likely, he had added, that she had been over excited by such reading and had merely “fancied” the whole scene she had described.
I. Attitudes Passionelles
When he touched her, violets on her tongue,
and afterward, in the folds of her bed linen.
Landscape plays a greater role than one would think.
The dark moors, the moon. How can we but forgive this girl,
dear reader; her dresses unravel us. Or him, his penchant
for the distraught. Now, we are moving
through dark rooms, the rustle of skirts, held breath.
Something must have been here in the moments before,
the thread that, alas, saves us dissappearing round the corner.
II. Rest Cure
Hippocrates first proposed that hysteria was caused by a wandering uterus. He believed that the uterus could dislodge itself in the body and wander around the female body attaching itself to other organs. He explained that the various symptoms of hysteria, such as nervousness, depression, and hysterical fits were caused by the uterus’s interactions with the other organs in the body.
You see, the woman in the attic is nothing
more than the axis on which our heroine turns—
countryside, silver locket, cover of snow.
A bread knife has more to do with it than howmany saints she could name in one breath.
Here, an illustration.
Take away the books. The sharpened point
of a compass, its circle widening. We are apt
to fear the body, the sentences scrawled beneath
the teacup’s pale lip. Each tendon a wire,
jumping at the proximity of silks.
The villain is you father. The villain is your doctor..
The villian is your mother, ten years gone
and wearing white. Once they’ve taken
away the paintbox, you can stop pretending.
Those darling, fragile reds.
Poet's note: “from the hysteria notebooks: a gothic” is from the errata series, my chapbook of Victorian genre-bending pieces.